|Hand made red teacup and Muji candle - personal photo|
As I often do at the end of August, I am currently in the middle of a life assessment - thinking about my goals and achievements, my level of happiness, wishes, mistakes... And I noticed one simple element, a recipe that helped me introduce simple changes these past two years, but made a big difference now that I look back: mindfulness and habits. Let me explain.
When I decided to question my lifestyle and identity two years ago, I started thinking on four areas to work on in my life:
- Simplification of my interior and possessions
- Improvement of my health (sports, food, meditation, body care)
- Money and budgeting
- Preserving time for personal activities, side projects and hobbies
At year + 2, when I look back on the areas which improved a lot, and those I still need to work on, I noticed an emerging pattern, a very simple recipe that seems to have helped a lot: a combination of mindfulness and habit implementation.
I find that meditation exercises help a lot being more mindful in everyday life, reducing the amount of time we spend on autopilot, and enjoying the present moment more often. However, one can't be mindful about everything all the time. The key is to decide which area you'd like to work on in priority, and focus your mindfulness on that area for a while.
To illustrate this very simple idea, take driving. When you start learning, you have to be mindful of every little detail - changing gears, changing the lights depending on luminosity etc. But once these little habits have been integrated, a lot of these elements become automatic when you drive, and you don't need to pay attention to these little things anymore, and can focus on the road, the other drivers... That's how all habits work.
Again, just like we can't be mindful about all areas at once, we can't implement several complicated habits at once either. I noticed that most of the elements I still need to work on haven't evolved much because I tried to change too many things at once.
So, when you focus on a habit, do it one at a time, and pick a simple habit to work with. For more details and useful tips on how to implement daily habits, I can suggest you to read Leo Babauta's blog, Zen Habits.
The simple recipe
- Pick up the various areas you'd like to work on: for this one, you have to think long term. What aspects of your life are not entirely satisfying at the present moment? Then prioritize them, as you will change them one after the other, over time.
- Select one area to focus on for the next months to come: What is the most important element you'd like to change in your life now? Pick that area, and start listing the various everyday items linked to it. For example if your priority is health, the various items linked to it are food, sports, body care, meditation...
- Pick one of these items, and make a list of simple habits you need to implement in order to change it: For example, if your priority is health, and your first item is food, you can come up with a list of habits like: reducing sugar, go to the market more often to get fresh produce, cook more, make your own lunch instead of eating out...
- Pick one habit, and implement it now: In my experience, trying to implement all habits at once doesn't work because they are not integrated, automatic yet, so you tend to forget some of them after a while, because it's too difficult to keep up. So pick only one, on which you will focus your mindfulness for about a month.
- Keep your attention on this new habit: Once you have concretely implemented the new habit, focus all your attention on it for the next few weeks, to make sure you respect it, don't forget about it. For example, reducing sugar: remember to reduce or suppress sugar in coffe or tea, swap fizzy drinks with water or tea... This is also a good way to learn about yourself and this new habit: you can make adjustments to fit your lifestyle and taste, which requires mindfulness.
- Once the new habit is fully integrated, pick the next one: After a few weeks, you will notice that keeping up with your habit requires less and less mindfulness. For example, if you picked a push-ups routine in the morning, you realize you no longer need a reminder on your phone to do them, you start naturally your day with them. When you don't need to be mindful anymore to keep up with the habit, it is integrated. You can now focus your attention on a new habit, keep it up for a few weeks, then move on to a new one etc.
I hope this simple combination of mindfulness and habits is clear - I wanted to share this because it really helps moving step by step toward my long term objectives. At first, it seemed too slow and meaningless to implement such simple habits, it didn't feel like it would make much of a difference, but after two years, I can assure you it does. It helped me improve vast areas of my life, and also to know myself better as I adjusted each little habit to my lifestyle and taste.
What about you? How do you implement new habits in your life? How do you tackle areas you are not satisfied with and want to improve?